Repeat after me
Reiterate the Repeat: Sky Kim and Keun Young Park
There’s something to be said for repetition. In the right hands, a repeated action, phrase, gesture or mark—repeated again and again and again and again and again and again and again—can suddenly become profound. The accumulated somethings transform into something else. An atmosphere is created. Expectations are overrun. Sometimes the act itself is downright impressive. (And impressive is what we want from our arts, isn’t it?) But there’s a danger here.
“One of the problems with contemporary art is one mistakes effort for accomplishment,” said painter Norman Lundin. It’s true. And at University of Nevada Reno’s Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, effort and accomplishment are currently making appearances, though not necessarily in equal proportion.
Reiterate the Repeat brings together the work of artists Sky Kim and Keun Young Park. Both women produce works on paper, and both use repetition in the production of their work, but the results are different.
Kim’s drawings appear to rely heavily on doodling. Maybe it’s because she uses Sharpie, or because her large forms seem largely undirected, but either way it often feels as though the thing on the wall may as well be just an oversize sheet of notebook paper. Lines undulate and connect, imitating organic forms; circles jumble and accumulate, aggregating into strings or rings or … who knows what? The structure of these drawings is unfortunately haphazard. Whatever illusion is created cannot quite be entered, not only because the Sharpie line is not as enthralling as other media might be, but because the scroll format of many of the works keeps the viewer at arms’ length. Far from being used for a traditional narrative or progressive experience, the scrolls hang stiffly open, awkwardly cropping or containing their subjects, and adding nothing but novelty to the experience. Vertical and horizontal notwithstanding, these drawings are exceedingly flat. They must have taken a long time, though.
Less flat are Park’s collages. These must have taken even longer, if that’s virtue. The work, all figurative, involves a process of deconstruction and reconstitution that grants the artist’s subjects a physical presence. Park calls it “micro collage,” but the word collage conjures up images of independent parts gathered into something new, a process fairly distinct from this one. Beginning as digital prints, each figure is physically torn into thousands of tiny pieces and reassembled in more or less the same order. The result is a subject that sits firmly on the paper ground, visible waves of effort undulating across its surface.
The best of these highlight the figure’s frailty: Step (Purple) with its dissolving figure frozen in limp gesture, and Standing (Green) offering a body mostly by implication. The strongest of all is Float #6, in which a vulnerable, recumbent body sits gently into the white ground, reminiscent of John Everett Millais’ painting of the drowned Ophelia.
The remainder of Park’s work is surreal, but not in the Surrealist sense of actually trying to plumb the unconscious. These, instead, are lighthearted, definitely too cutesy, but sometimes funny illustrations of a dream state. Taken together, her work teeters between reverent human study and sappy children’s book.
In the end, neither artist’s work is really about repetition. These are pretty pictures. Repeated action is part of the process, but the process is peripheral to the product. Much more important is the presence of the finished work, regardless of the impressiveness of its making. After all, is it the well-meaning we should honor, or is it the accomplished?